Aerobic glycolysis is an important metabolic adaptation of cancer cells. However, there is growing evidence that reprogrammed mitochondria also play an important metabolic role in metastatic dissemination. Two constituents of the reprogrammed mitochondria of cancer cells are the intracellular tyrosine kinase Fer and its cancer- and sperm-specific variant, FerT. Here, we show that Fer and FerT control mitochondrial susceptibility to therapeutic and hypoxic stress in metastatic colon (SW620) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC-H1299) cells. Fer- and FerT-deficient SW620 and H1299 cells (SW∆Fer/FerT and H∆Fer/FerT cells, respectively) become highly sensitive to metformin treatment and to hypoxia under glucose-restrictive conditions. Metformin impaired mitochondrial functioning that was accompanied by ATP deficiency and robust death in SW∆Fer/FerT and H∆Fer/FerT cells compared to the parental SW620 and H1299 cells. Notably, selective knockout of the fer gene without affecting FerT expression reduced sensitivity to metformin and hypoxia seen in SW∆Fer/FerT cells. Thus, Fer and FerT modulate the mitochondrial susceptibility of metastatic cancer cells to hypoxia and metformin. Targeting Fer/FerT may therefore provide a novel anticancer treatment by efficient, selective, and more versatile disruption of mitochondrial function in malignant cells.
Keywords: Fer; FerT; hypoxia; malignant cells; metformin; oxidative phosphorylation; reprogrammed mitochondria.